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On The Couch

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      On The Couch
Fleur Britten

Couchsurfing? Surely a sofa would sink on the open sea?Couchsurfing is a global community of over a million people in 232 countries that offers couches, beds and body-sized horizontal surfaces via the internet for fellow members to bunk down on for the night.Couchsurfing is everywhere, from Kazakhstan, where there are124 empty couches for the daring traveller, to Antartica where 30 cold couches are available. It's free, it's friendly and it's the new way to travel.Fleur Britten, Sunday Times features writer is about to lose her couchsurfing virginity. Starting out in Moscow and taking the Trans-Siberian Railway with a couple of stops in Siberia and Ulan Ude, she'll then fly to Beijing and travel through China, crossing into Kazakhstan, followed by Ubekistan. Finding couches in the unlikeliest of places finally arriving back in London to play host to other couchsurfers.With the promise of 'couch available' rarely entailing a couch alone, with stories of meals, unofficial local tours and a family-like welcome, she will explore the unique couchsurfing community and so-called 'couchsurfing spirit'. What motivates people to invite strangers to sleep on their sofas? How is it possible to couchsurf and stay safe and what is it that is it that has made couchsurfing such a phenomenon? This is an adventure of kindness that will lead Fleur to meet the most unusual people and visit the most unexpected places.Combined with revealing, candid images this promises to be much, much more than your average travelogue.

ON THE COUCH

TALES OF COUCHSURFING A CONTINENT

FLEUR BRITTEN

To Miroslav the Impaler

Table of Contents

Cover Page (#u18fb4975-1FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Title Page (#u18fb4975-2FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

Dedication (#u18fb4975-3FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

CHAPTER 1 - LONDON: A REVOLUTION TO RIOE (#u18fb4975-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

CHAPTER 2 - MOSCOW: UNDER OBSERVATION (#u18fb4975-9FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

CHAPTER 3 - YEKATERTNBURG: THERE’S A RAT IN THE KITCHEN (#u18fb4975-16FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

CHAPTER 4 - NOVOSIBIRSK: LOSING A LIMB (#u18fb4975-21FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

CHAPTER 5 - ULAN-UDE: TO HEALTH! TO LOVE! TO VODKA! (#u18fb4975-26FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

CHAPTER 6 - MON90LIA: NOMADIC WANDERIN9S (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 7 - VLADIVOSTOK: THE AMBASSADOR’S RECEPTION (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 8 - BEIJING: CARRY IN COUCHSURFING (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 9 - XI’AN: MY GOD, THEY REALLY CAN DRINK! (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 10 - URUMQI: UNACCUSTOMED AS I AM (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 11 - ALMATY: FORCE 10 FIGHTS AND COLD COMFORTS (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 12 - SHYMKENT: NO ONE EVER CHOOSES TO COME HERE (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 13 - ASTANA: OFF-PISTE COUCHSURFING (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 14 - KARAGANDA: A DAY IN THE LIFE IF A PAGAN METAL-LOVING IT GEEK (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 15 - CHENGDU: ALL A-BORE TO THE K-HILE (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 16 - KUNMING: THE TRAVELLERS’ TEASE (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 17 - GUILIN: TROUBLE IN PARADISE (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 18 - XINGPING: SO VILLAGE (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 19 - YANGSHUO: THE SCHOOL OF LIFE (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 20 - SHANGHAI: CHRISTIAN CRIMES (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 21 - LONDON: THE DEBT COLLECTOR (#litres_trial_promo)

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER 1 LONDON: A REVOLUTION TO RIOE (#)

AUGUST 2008 LONDON

‘I have an idea.’ I was on the phone to my great friend, Ollie. ‘It’s a little extreme, but I think you’ll like it.’

Ollie and I had been friends for so long that neither of us could quite remember when or where we met. Suffice to say it would have been drunken, at university, about fifteen years ago. We had a shared appreciation of the night, of the world and of the new; especially new chocolate products. Well, today, I had something new for us to try and it wasn’t edible.

‘Let’s go couchsurfing.’

Couchsurfing was not, as might reasonably be assumed, synonymous with bed-hopping, or being a couch potato, but was the name for a one-million-member strong, international ‘hospitality exchange’ website, connecting people who wanted to stay in other people’s homes around the world with people happy to host them; it was like one big notice board. When I’d been abroad before, I had always longed to have tea with a local, or be invited to a party. I’d done some home stays and had once gatecrashed a house party in Berlin after seeing it spilling out of a high window, but when it came to talking to the natives I suddenly felt stuck. Couchsurfing seemed like the ideal mediator.

If Ollie agreed, couchsurfing would become the theme of a ten-week trip to Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan (Kazakhstan alone boasted an impressive 124 couches). We were both drawn by an irresistible call to the East, intrigued by societies in varying degrees of ‘post-communism’, and for two years had been discussing planting our flags on what was over one-fifth of the globe’s landmass. We wanted to unpick the world’s largest country (Russia) and most populated nation (China) from the media myths they’d been reduced to—couchsurfing promised the inside track.

No more homogenous hotels for us, no more formulaic checklists and guidebook dependence deadening the whole experience. Couchsurfing presented a timely switch from passive observation to participation—we’d be hearing the truth, whether settled around the kitchen table, lounging naked in the Russian banya, or relaxed and disarmed on the sofa. And what an apt metaphor the couch was for a warm welcome. Wasn’t couchsurfing what holidays were waiting for?

Couchsurfing was founded in 2004 when an American, Casey Fenton, spammed about 1,500 Icelandic students asking them to let him stay. He was inundated with replies, and the idea became a phenomenon. There were devotees who’d sold up everything they owned to couchsurf the world, and couchsurfers offering ‘couches’ in virtually every country across all continents, from Antarctica to Zimbabwe, where a ‘couch’ could be a bedroom, a garden, a corner of the floor; or even just a couch. And all for free: how timely during these locust years.

With the average age of a couchsurfer standing at twentyseven, couchsurfing was something of a Generation Y game, but it was by no means exclusively so. There were over two hundred surfers between the ages of eighty and eighty-nine—free spirits didn’t become less free with age, if they could help it.

‘Sleeping in strangers’ houses? Couldn’t think of anything worse.’ That was the general reaction to my plan, but Ollie was up for it.

‘Cooool!’ he said boyishly. ‘It’ll be like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur travelled through time and space on his irrational sofa.’

But Ollie was no Arthur, no stranger to exploration: worldly, courageous and blessed with a preternaturally sunny spirit, there wasn’t a better travelling companion to be had.

Ollie had established himself an enviable modus vivendi. A freelance ad exec, he earned a handsome wedge for six to nine months of the year, and then travelled on a shoestring for the remainder, photographing his experiences. What he really wanted to do was find more, bigger, better Kodak moments and snap them all—couchsurfing was surely going to throw up some intriguing material for him. I, meanwhile, was a wage slave, a features writer for the Sunday Times, and in return for three years’ ‘good service’ I’d been granted a career break. I was desperate to escape the feeling that Planet London—and the Daily Planet—was closing in around me. For too long stifled by institution and constantly stressed by killer deadlines, I yearned to recover a sense of self. For a bit.

Ollie and I had had a few adventures together before: regular alpine appointments for pleasure-seeking skiing; Goan New Year raves with the heroin-addled old-timers; and the cosy thrill of living together (though not like that—‘that’ had fortunately never been relevant to us). Ollie—something of a kamikaze skier—had skied off a mountain early in the year, shattering his tibia and fibula so badly he’d had a Terminator-style titanium plate and six screws fitted. By September, he still needed a crutch, walked with a grievous limp, and was more familiar with the physio than with his own mother.

‘Are you really sure your leg isn’t going to drop off in Outer Mongolia or something?‘ I asked.

Despite his protestations to the contrary, I was sure I saw flashes of electric white pain behind the brave face. But Ollie got himself thoroughly vetted, and his consultant promised he’d be fine.

‘Perhaps we could have a sub-theme of communist swimming pools,’ Ollie suggested—it was critical that he kept up his physio.

I, too, was damaged—in the cardiac department. One day, eighteen months ago, I met The Emperor. Right then and there he impaled my heart and the rest of the world fell away. We were so high on each other, we’d stay up all night like one long waking dream, reluctant to miss a single second. But then a terrible and destructive war of the wills broke out. The Emperor was Serb—that came with insuperable Slavic pride; he had an artistic temperament—that came with extreme emotions.

Of course, I also had my complications. I was neurotic, sensitive, highly-strung and, like so many girls, prone to overthinking. Plus, I was possessed of a will that wouldn’t be broken. So, instead, it was us that broke up. Then, after not very long, we involuntarily gravitated back to each other; he still had my heart, while part of his soul, he said, had been left with me. And so began one very bipolar relationship, as we lurched across the emotionally exhausting canvas of love. He moved in, he moved out, he moved in…

‘Cut your losses,’ friends advised. ‘It’s too dramatic.’

At thirty-four I was getting to an age where I couldn’t afford to be trapped in this cycle. Ten weeks’ absence, I reflected, would have to decide it one way or the other.

So Ollie and I had a revolution to ride. ‘Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch At A Time’ was couchsurfing’s endearingly cheesy motto. Couchsurfing wasn’t only about free accommodation; it had A Philosophy. Through conversation and understanding, it wanted to bridge cultures. What’s more, it was an invitation to step out of the monetary economy and into the gift economy, where things were just given, with no expectation of quid pro quo: what timing. Couchsurfing’s founding principle was Pay it Forward, a virtuous cycle of ‘give and ye might eventually receive’. But reciprocal altruism wouldn’t work without a community, and couchsurfing was all about enabling one big, happy community. The ultimate antidote to the West’s atomised society, its founders even called it a ’love-ocracy’. This was globalisation at its most benevolent.

Hold it!We were about to stay with weirdos that lurked online in a time when ‘trusting’ was a byword for stupid. How could we be sure it would be safe? Well, plenty of safety measures had been implemented, such as an eBay-style, meritocratic reference system where guests and hosts would write reports on their experiences, marking them positive, negative or neutral. Requesting a couch with lots of negative references would be very ‘trusting’ indeed…

But most of all there was faith. ‘Trust your instincts’ was the website’s advice. This was especially useful in the absence of choice: in Micronesia, with its one registered couch, there wasn’t much else to rely on. And yes, apparently there were those hosts who’d upgrade their guests from the couch to the bed. That couchsurfing was full of young, free travellers, and that the reproof ‘Couchsurfing is not a dating site’ was stamped all over its pages, made it obvious that plenty were at it. It sounded like one big party.
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